Mike Muscala introduces himself at the Lakers practice on February 9, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
(Ty Nowell/Los Angeles Lakers)

New Lakers Bullock and Muscala Set to Debut in Philly

by Mike Trudell
Lakers Reporter

The Lakers took to the practice floor at Temple University on Saturday afternoon in advance of Sunday’s game against the Sixers, as Luke Walton had his first chance to get new Lakers Reggie Bullock and Mike Muscala into the mix with the rest of the squad.

“We didn’t do much, but it was good to get them with the guys, start to get familiar with them a little bit,” he said. “Both of them have the ability to spread the floor, and have been in the league for a few years. Today was more about getting a sweat in, getting them familiar with some of the plays and getting them around the guys.”

“They don’t know much of our offense right now, so they’re just kinda playing off their instincts and playing off their knowledge of the game,” added LeBron James. “Just happy to have them here. We know what they bring to the table, so we look forward to implementing them into our system.”

Both Bullock and Muscala are expected to get some playing time off the bench against Philadelphia, as Walton continues a season that’s been marked by a lack of continuity, due to new players, injuries, suspensions, and now trades.

“It’s the same,” he said. “We have to keep getting better on the move. It’s challenging without that continuity, but that’s what pro sports are sometimes. There are 20-something games left, and we have to get these guys in the flow, get to know each other, get to know strengths and weaknesses and all that. We’re up for the challenge.”

Bullock, at least, has strong connections with two of his new teammates. He’s known Brandon Ingram for much of his life, as they both grew up in the small town, basketball crazy Kinston, N.C., and he played with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for two seasons in Detroit.

“It’s good to be able to come to a team with a lot of familiar faces,” he said. “Pope played with me when I was in Detroit, Brandon’s from my hometown.

“I knew him growing up, his dad opened the gym for me every time. Brandon was in there. Obviously I’m four, five years older than him, but when a lot of the guys in our neighborhood would play basketball, we was a lot older than him, but he’d still be in the gym with us down there competing and everything. But to see him grow into the player he is today is truly a story to be able to witness, a player like him coming from Kinston to be able to make it, also myself too. Actually seeing him going through the whole process was great to watch.”

Walton was asked what the key for his squad, coming off an impressive road win at Boston, will be against a Sixers team that picked up Tobias Harris, Mike Scott and Jonathan Simmons at the trade deadline.

“For us, the most important thing is we start playing defense again,” he said. “Our defense is going in the wrong direction right now. That’s something we’ve been able to hang our hat on all season, and we’re starting to get a little slippage. The Sixers are a very good team; they got a lot of talent, new pieces that are very talented, and they were really good before they got these new guys. We know about the Sixers, but for us it’s about our defense and getting back to playing that at a much higher level.”

To Walton’s point, L.A. had the NBA’s seventh ranked defense – rating of 106.7 – when Lonzo Ball – the tip of the defensive spear – got injured on Jan. 21 at Houston. Since then, they have the 26th ranked defense – 116.8 – in the league. Ball is exactly three weeks into what was given as a 4-to-6 week timetable.

Bullock, for one, could help the defense, as he’s a capable wing defender, who at 6’7’’, can switch to multiple positions. Meanwhile, Walton’s ready to take advantage of his most known skill: shooting.

“We’ll do what we can to manipulate his strengths to take advantage, whether that’s him coming off wide pins, or setting back picks, things of that nature, we’ll be looking to do all those things to get him going and get our team open, good looks,” he said.

Bullock currently ranks 12th in the NBA in made 3-pointers (2.6 per game). He’s 3rd in the league scoring on handoffs, 4th in catch-and-shoot scoring, in the 93rd percentile coming off screens and the 83rd percentile on spot ups. LeBron has long been known to figure out where his shooters like to catch the ball, and even what kind of spin they want on it, so he’s doing some research.

“Yeah I will, absolutely, I’ll have that conversation throughout practices, throughout the game,” said James. “If I see them doing something where I can help them out a lot better, I’ll just ask them. I’ll ask them how they best see themselves being successful with our team, and how they feel more comfortable on the floor, and then I’ll pick around that. I can make adjustments throughout the game to make them guys feel pretty comfortable.”

“I definitely understand what he’s talking about about shooters, being able to know where they want the ball, how they want it delivered, the right spin on it and everything,” offered Bullock. “With me, I feel like any grip I’m able to get on the ball, no matter how it comes towards me, I should be able to get it off … but he knows the feel of the game, I know the feel of the game where I want the ball, so that will be a connection that we have to make throughout the practicing and the rest of the season.”

Muscala will get threes up as well, and as a career 36.5 percent shooter from distance, attempted 4.2 per game for Philly this season, a number that contrasts L.A.’s nine total attempts from the center trio of JaVale McGee, Tyson Chandler and (since traded) Ivica Zubac this season.

I asked him if he saw the stretch five position emerging as he was growing up, or if it just happened organically.

“I didn’t really foresee that happening, but I was a really good midrange shooter in college, but I didn’t shoot a lot of threes,” he responded. “I just gradually moved my range back every year.

If you haven’t seen much of Muscala, how does he play?

“I just try to bring energy, be a good team defender, be locked in and play good team basketball,” he said. “Get the ball moving on offense, get different actions going, and just be ready to shoot.”

Muscala will make his debut against his former team in Philadelphia, for whom he appeared in 47 games, not to mention the team that drafted him in Atlanta in 2013, where he spent his first five seasons, in L.A.’s final game before the break.

Bullock, meanwhile, was a Lakers fan growing up after being hooked by Kobe Bryant.

“L.A. is a great city, the Lakers is a great organization, great franchise,” he said. “A lot of great players have played there, a lot of history. I’m just glad to be a part of it. The Lakers is definitely one of my teams I enjoyed watching when I was younger. I was a big-time Kobe fan, so it’s a great thing to put on that jersey … when Kobe first got there, I’ve been a Lakers fan ever since.”

He’ll now be playing alongside one of the very few players on Kobe’s level, in LeBron.

“Just going to take confidence in my game, believing that I’m a great shooter, believing what I do will work and will make things better for the team,” Bullock concluded. “Obviously believing in my skillset … just being ready to shoot every time I touch it.”

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